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Unit 221B at GDC 2023: Squelching Harassment In The Video Game Ecosystem

Unit 221B's Director of Investigations, Steven Guris, and Maria Thomas, Lead Investigator, speak at GDC 2023 on Squelching Harassment In The Video Game Ecosystem. 

Watch the full session here.

Since 2010, the video game industry readily outstripped its entertainment competitors with explosive growth year over year. The video games industry generates more total revenue than Hollywood and the record industry combined. Social media and online culture grew in lockstep with video games in the first two decades of the millennium towards the symbiotic relationship they share today. Gamers now have an opportunity to share their favorite games and moments with audiences across the world on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and forming communities of unprecedented scale. 

However, as with user-generated content since the heydays of UseNet and IRC, there are both good and bad actors in the public square. Press and media are inundated with stories of social media gone wrong, and its effects can be seen in every sphere of life from politics to entertainment, and video game communities have been no exception. As game communities and social media networks grew to unfathomable size, the frequency and severity of abusive behavior grew in parallel. 

The infamous Gamergate incident was just the beginning of an onslaught of abuse: unsolicited pornography, calls to personal phones, doxxing campaigns, and fraudulent deployment of SWAT teams to developer’s homes are commonplace. Developers have closed subreddits, Twitter accounts, and social media out of fear, unwilling to tolerate additional abuse. 

In January of 2021, Bungie Inc., publisher of Destiny 2, began a concerted effort to deal with abuse in their ecosystem in every one of its forms: cheaters, boosters, illicit emblem sales, and in-game currency arbitrage manipulation. Bungie’s public stance in terms of marginalized communities was made clear in terms of support for fundamental human rights, but moreover to see that support reflected in company hiring policies and most importantly as part of the game itself. 

A tweet on an official Twitter feed during Black History Month prompted a racist backlash that lasted months. In June 2022, someone began to harass a Bungie community manager on social media, then took the leap to real life. He began a campaign of racist telephone calls to the manager and their spouse, then initiated a food delivery to their home intended to intimidate and terrify the two employees. 

He thought he was doing so in an anonymous fashion. He was wrong. Bungie leveraged all of their expert resources, including the cyber-investigations team at Unit 221B to fight back. Unit 221B, along with colleagues in the legal, law enforcement, and video game community successfully investigated, identified, and located the individual behind these activities and put a definitive stop to the abuse. 

In this presentation, we explain the methods, tactics, and strategies that can be adopted by any company or developer to protect themselves against other bad actors in order to fight the loathsome harassment that is far too rampant. 

In the aftermath, tracking community response to the casework led to an undeniable conclusion: This initiative was met with universally positive acclaim in the Discord servers and Twitter feeds that form the community. It is abundantly clear that people are fed up with trolls and their harassment and the community is more than ready for a change.  It’s going to require the cooperation of gaming companies, cyber-investigations teams, legal, law enforcement, and all of the communities of the amazing gamers who make this space safe and truly wonderful. 

To learn more about Unit 221B's threat intelligence and investigations services, please contact us.

Unit 221B. Guided By Integrity. Discreet By Design.  


Steven Guris, Director of Threat Investigations

Steven Guris is a digital investigator, penetration tester, and security engineer. A graduate of Kennesaw State University, Steven specializes in digital forensics investigations and tool development for corporate and private clients with a focus on online stalking and harassment. He is also a seasoned offensive engineer with experience leading penetration tests and red teams, as well as malware analysis and reverse engineering. Steven is currently the Director of Threat Investigations at Unit 221B.

Maria Thomas, Lead Investigator

Maria Thomas is an investigator who has been involved with cybersecurity for three years. She specializes in Open Source Intelligence, drawing on her background as a behaviorist to follow the trails people leave across the internet, and always wants to know the “why” behind her targets’ actions. Thomas works as a Cyber Detective at cyber-investigation company Unit 221B. Thomas has been known to participate in Hackfests from time to time, as well as TraceLabs’ OSINT Search Parties. In her spare time, Thomas plays video games, reads books, and does art.